How to understand your gender

My new book How to Understand Your Gender comes out today! It’s my first time writing a full book with the amazing Alex Iantaffi, and we’re so pleased with what’s come out of our collaboration. Huge thanks to Jessica Kingsley for all of their support publishing the book, and for signing us up for a sequel already (watch this space!) and to The Open University CCIG for sponsoring Julia Scheele‘s amazing illustrations and supporting my involvement in the project.

Like most of my books, this one starts from the idea that cultural pressures around gender are a huge part of the struggles we have in this area. It unpacks how gender is viewed in the world around us, and encourages readers to think about their own genders within this through a series of activities and reflections. The book draws on Alex and my own experiences of gender as well as the anonymised experiences of people we’ve worked with over the years, to give examples of the very diverse ways there are of experiencing, identifying, and expressing gender.

People often imagine that gender is only relevant to women, and/or perhaps trans people. However recent writing on the impact of toxic masculinity on men, and rigid gender norms on cisgender people, have highlighted that it’s a vital topic for everyone to explore. For that reason, How to Understand Your Gender isn’t aimed at people of any particular gender – or agender – identity or experience. Instead it aims to provide a route-map for anybody who’s thinking about their own gender, or struggling to navigate the constantly shifting terrain of gender that’s out there at the moment.

Gender hardly ever seems to be out of the news at the moment. Just in the past month, for example, The BBC show No More Boys and Girls showed how highly gendered schools and families are, and the impact of this on children as young as seven who believe that ‘boys are better’, that girls should be pretty and can’t be successful, and that boys shouldn’t show any emotions except anger. Robert Webb publicised his book How Not To Be a Boy about the damaging impact that dominant ideals of masculinity had on him. John Lewis announced that it wouldn’t label children’s clothes ‘for boys’ and ‘for girls’ any more which resulted in a huge backlash. A couple were interviewed in the media because they had threatened to sue their child’s school for allowing a child who was assigned male at birth to wear dresses. Talk show host James O’Brien responded in spectacular fashion to both these news stories. L’Oreal’s first trans model Munroe Bergdorff was fired for pointing out white privilege and structural racism. And Piers Morgan continued his ongoing campaign against non-binary and gender fluidity in conversation with Julian Clary.

How to Understand Your Gender takes an intersectional approach to explore how our genders are  interwoven with race, culture, class, age, generation, disability and many other aspects of our identity and experience. In this way hopefully it will provide some helpful signposts for thinking through these kinds of news stories, as well as being useful for considering how the issues they raise resonate through our own lives.

Find out more:

You can buy the book via Amazon, Waterstones, or Jessica Kingsley’s own website.

You can hear a podcast with me and Alex talking about the book over on

If you’re in London you can come and here me talk about the book, and gender, on Wednesday 4th October at Conway Hall. Details here.

Meg-John (MJ) Barker (they/them) is a writer, zine-maker, collaborator, contemplative practitioner, and friend. They are the author of a number of zines and popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including graphic guides to Queer, Gender, and Sexuality (with Jules Scheele), and How To Understand Your Gender, Sexuality and Relationships (with Alex Iantaffi).


  1. […] UK for over 15 years. With not one but two new books out this year (Queer with Julia Scheele and How to Understand your Gender with Alex Iantaffi), their extensive catalogue of work covers subjects as diverse as counselling […]